Solemn Opening For National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum

A red bandanna. A pair of shoes. A watch frozen in time. Ordinary, everyday objects that most people wouldn’t normally give a second thought to now serve as powerful keepsakes as part of the items on display at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum.

Dignitaries past and present, along with survivors and family members, gathered for a dedication ceremony at the museum in Lower Manhattan this morning. The museum will be open this week for family members and first responders before opening to the public on May 21. Advance reservations are required. Tickets for Wednesday are sold out with publisher Condé Nast sponsoring the first day of admissions. The museum will remain open 24 hours a day during the dedication period, today through Tuesday.

The memorial museum is located seven stories below ground and is expected to see 2.5 million visitors in its first 12 months. Admission is $24 for the general public but free for Sept. 11 family members. The street-level memorial plaza has had more than 12 million visitors since it opened in September 2011 and will remain free. The memorial occupies eight of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center, remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and Feb. 26, 1993.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated millions of dollars of his personal fortune to the museum and served on its board, opened the hour-long ceremony, comparing the memorial to Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a “sacred marker of the past.” The museum will be a “witness to tragedy and affirmation of human life. A reminder to us and future generations that freedom carries heavy responsibilities,” he said.

President Barack Obama recalled the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader and volunteer firefighter who saved countless lives of people who at didn’t know his name at the time. It was only in the aftermath, when they talked about a man with a red bandanna who aided them that his mother, Alison Crowther, knew it was her son. Ever since he was a boy, Welles carried a red bandanna, and one of those is now on display at the museum.

The greatest hope for Alison Crowther and her husband Jefferson is for people who see the red bandanna to remember how people helped each other that day. “This is the true legacy of Sept. 11,” she said, introduced by the president, with Ling Young, who survived thanks to Welles.

“From this day forward,” Obama said, people will know the sacrifice of some so that others could live.

Also on display is Todd Beamer’s watch, which was found at the site of where Flight 93 went down near Shanksville, Pa. Beamer was on the San Francisco, Calif.-bound flight that was taken over by terrorists and believed to be and headed for Washington, D.C. He and other passengers are credited with overtaking the terrorists and “changing the course of history,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “In giving their lives, how many lives have they saved?”

Florence Jones was among the last 25 people to walk out of the south tower on Sept. 11, having walked down 77 flights of stairs — taking off her shoes on the 60th floor – before walking another 50 blocks in her stockings.

Years later, when she took her shoes out of a plastic container, they still “had the smell from that awful day.” Jones knew she would never wear them again, so she donated them to the museum. “I wanted my nieces and nephew and every person that asked what happened to see them and maybe understand a little bit better what it felt like to be us on that day.”